Yes, the Dunedin City Council CEO has the power of censorship, but questions remain around talk of a Treaty Partnership

Recent happenings in Dunedin illustrate the extent to which “the Treaty partnership” has become a facile concoction of local and central government and is applied to justify whatever politicians or administrators want to justify when dealing with Maori rights and privileges.

In this case it has been applied to justify censorship and to inhibit an elected community representative’s attempt to foster discussion of the proposition that when te reo is spoken at public gatherings, a translation should be provided to enable the great majority of the country’s population who don’t speak that language to comprehend what was said.

The elected representative was silenced – in effect – by the unelected chief executive of the Dunedin City Council who invoked the Treaty partnership to legitimise her actions.

The Otago Daily Times reported that …

A community board member’s report complaining about use of te reo Maori at a local government conference has been deemed unacceptable by the Dunedin City Council.

Brian Peat, of the Mosgiel Taieri Community Board, referred to ‘‘a young Maori chap’’ talking in te reo for at least 20 minutes without translation into English, but his recollection has been challenged by one of the conference organisers.

Mr Peat has called for all Maori content to be translated.

The rejected report included claims that New Zealand’s first language was English and that the community boards’ conference content ‘‘seemed somewhat slanted’’ on two subjects — Maori and climate change.

Oh dear.

Can’t have a community board meeting exposed to that.

Mr Peat asked for his report to be included in the community board’s agenda, but DCC chief executive Sandy Graham said this would have been inappropriate.

Its contents were not consistent with the council’s partnership obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi, she said.

‘‘The board member is entitled to his views, but as chief executive I must also manage the DCC’s relationship with mana whenua as our Treaty partners,’’ Ms Graham said.

‘‘Put simply, I was not prepared to allow the report to form part of the DCC’s official record.

‘‘That would have given it a status and mana it did not deserve.’’

Graham challenged Peat’s comment that English was New Zealand’s first language, pointing out the nation had three official languages — New Zealand Sign Language, Maori and English.

Peat subsequently explained that he meant English was the dominant language.

Graham said the theme of the conference had been interconnected communities — te kotahitanga — and there was an emphasis on engaging with iwi and sustainability.

One of the conference organisers, Mandy Mayhem-Bullock, of the Waikouaiti Coast Community Board and the lower South Island elected representative, said the content of speeches in Maori had been translated into English.

Hmm.  Two conflicting accounts.

Mosgiel Taieri Community Board chairwoman Joy Davis and Dunedin Mayor Aaron Hawkins backed the chief executive’s call.

‘‘Pakeha New Zealanders play an important role in upholding their side of the Treaty partnership and advocating for stronger Treaty relationships,’’ Mr Hawkins said.

‘‘This includes the local government sector, which should lead by example.’’

In an email to the council, Point of Order suggested Peat’s suggestion that te reo be translated did not seem to be unreasonable, considering the 2018 census finding that  English was the most common language in New Zealand with which people could hold a conversation about everyday things (with 4,482,135 speakers, or 95.4 per cent of the population).

The next most common language was te reo Māori (185,955 people or 4.0 percent) – more than one in six Māori adults said they could speak Te reo Māori, which means a significant majority of Maori cannot speak it.

We asked:

  1. Which part of the Treaty of Waitangi and what particular wording establishes the Treaty partnership?
  2. Is your city’s governance structure democratic or do mana whenua have rights and privileges that are not given to other citizens?
  3. Within that structure, why can an unelected council officer determine what an elected community board representative may say or write in reports?
  4. How does the chief executive expect the city’s English-speaking majority to understand and agree or disagree with whatever a te reo-speaking person has said without a translation?

We received this response (which we can attribute to a DCC spokesperson):

 The Treaty of Waitangi partnership between the Crown and Māori is well established and reflected in provisions of the Local Government Act (section 4).

A Mosgiel-Taieri Community Board member’s report was not included in the agenda for a recent board meeting because the content was deemed unacceptable. The report, for the New Zealand Community Boards Conference, was factually incorrect and did not represent the role mana whenua hold in exercising tikanga and te reo Māori when welcoming attendees to and participating in events such as a local government conference.

The theme of the conference was Interconnected Communities – Te Kotahitanga, with an emphasis on engaging with iwi and sustainability, two critical areas for the future of local government. Our understanding is that while not all content was translated, speeches in Māori were translated into English.

 A copy of the report was provided to DCC Chief Executive Sandy Graham, who is responsible for agendas under Standing Orders, section 9.1 (which can be found here), and she decided its contents were not consistent with the DCC’s partnership obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi. Therefore, it was not appropriate to include it on a DCC agenda.

 Sure enough, the Standing Orders empower the chief executive to do a great deal in deciding what goes on to the agenda.

But what about Section 4 of the Local Government Act?

Alas, we found no mention of a Treaty-obligated “partnership” between councils and Maori.

It does says –

Treaty of Waitangi

 In order to recognise and respect the Crown’s responsibility to take appropriate account of the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi and to maintain and improve opportunities for Māori to contribute to local government decision-making processes, Parts 2 and 6 provide principles and requirements for local authorities that are intended to facilitate participation by Māori in local authority decision-making processes.

The word partnership appears just five times in four sections of the Act.

Not one of those references involves a partnership of the Treaty sort.

A caveat comes in the form of a warning: Some amendments have not yet been incorporated.

Even so, other local governments and the Labour Government have a similar facility for misrepresenting the Treaty of Waitangi and bandying the word “partnership” as they implement big changes to the way we are governed and to the legislation and local government decisions which result.

One thought on “Yes, the Dunedin City Council CEO has the power of censorship, but questions remain around talk of a Treaty Partnership

  1. All my life I have struggled with dyslexia and the English language, I would never try to write anything until I discovered spelling checkers. I couldn’t read till I was 8 now all those bad memories have returned with papers and official documents sprinkled freely with Maori words that I haven’t a clue what they mean, and if you look them up in a Maori dictionary they often have the meaning of 3 or 4 different English words. It’s no wonder that the productivity of the country is going downhill so fast when you think of all the wasted time spent spouting in Maori that most can’t understand and then having to repeat it in English or leave the majority in the dark about what was said. It was hard enough for me growing up in the 1950s and trying to learn. God help the current generation if born with that affliction.

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